I noticed some leaflets in a rack outside the school gym we use for Thursday’s kendo session extolling the benefits that children will gain from a certain martial art with a Korean name and an Egyptian grand master. The document promised that kids would learn discipline, respect, self-confidence and teamwork from joining the advertised classes and I am sure that they will. It made me think however that while we also attribute these values to kendo, in the west, we do little to advertise kendo as a source of personal development.
The ZNKR proclaims that the purpose of kendo is “to mold the mind and body and to cultivate a vigorous spirit” and many worthy sensei have written about the value of kendo in building strength of character. I have seen a number of essays that discuss how the mind-set of kendo helps kenshi relate with courtesy and sincerity to society in general and that in striving to better ourselves in the dojo we are better equipped to devote our energies to work and to the communities that we live in.
As you would expect, I do not disagree with these concepts. I do however feel that kendo does little to advertise these virtues to those outside our small groups.
Kendo, like some of the more traditional martial arts, takes a multi-layered approach to revealing its teachings. The view is that you really need to undertake hard training before you can discuss the character building effects of hard training. The ideal situation is that your physical kendo ability and your theoretical knowledge should grow at the same pace.
I suppose that my question is – Do we do enough to sell kendo, or indeed do we want to broadcast the character building qualities of kendo to new potential recruits? Kendo in the west appeals to individuals who gravitate towards it for a host of distinctive reasons. For the few that last past the beginners’ course, the path becomes more interesting as they progress, and training brings its rewards, both mentally and physically. We like this, because we are left with a group of people who have shared similar experiences and who develop similar views.
Kendo remains a minority sport in most countries. Whether this is because we do not publicise its benefits, or because it does not have the self defence applications of other martial arts is open to speculation. I have a pet theory that right or wrong, many of us prefer to spend our time in the dojo in pursuit of our own development rather than being involved in a constant process to attract new members. Perhaps kendo just needs more evangelists.